In big game, Jackson second to none

Bucs' unheralded safety gets 2 picks, MVP award

Buccaneers 48

Raiders 21

Super Bowl Xxxvii

January 27, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Free safety Dexter Jackson resides in the third tier of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense, the level that falls behind the high-priced, outspoken Pro Bowl players (Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch) and the secondary playmakers (Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber).

Yesterday, though, in Tampa Bay's 48-21 blowout win over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, Jackson proved as important to the Bucs' defense as anyone.

Jackson intercepted Rich Gannon twice in the first half, setting the tone for what would be the longest day of the season for the league's Most Valuable Player. In doing so, Jackson became the second defensive player over the past three seasons to be named the game's MVP.

"I'm one of the guys that does the dirty work," Jackson said. "Tonight, doing the dirty work, it pays off."

It was the pinnacle of what has been a steady climb from reserve player as a rookie out of Florida State, to starter, to one of the stars of the franchise's biggest win and first Super Bowl title.

"To be the Super Bowl MVP out of a small town in Quincy, Fla., it's great," Jackson said.

With the score tied at 3 and the Raiders facing third-and-two from the Tampa Bay 43 late in the first quarter, Gannon was late on a throw to tight end Doug Jolley, which allowed Jackson to step in front and make the interception at Tampa Bay's 40.

"He tried to run a stop-fade [route], and our line had a great rush," Jackson said.

That started Tampa Bay on the way to Martin Gramatica's 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter that gave the Bucs the lead for good at 6-3.

Jackson's second interception was even more impressive. Gannon attempted to look Jackson off by staring to the left side of the field before coming back deep right to speedy receiver Jerry Porter. Jackson paid no mind to the head fake, recognized Porter was running a deep post, stepped in front of the receiver for the interception and returned it 25 yards to Oakland's 45.

The Bucs did not score on the ensuing possession but got the field position that led to Mike Alstott's touchdown that made it 13-3. When the Bucs scored again before halftime, the rout was on.

Jackson's honor was won primarily for his first half-heroics because another member of the Bucs' secondary dominated the second half. Gannon went on to throw three more interceptions, two to nickel back Dwight Smith, who returned them both for touchdowns (44 and 50 yards).

"I credit Dwight Smith, I credit the whole secondary," Jackson said. "We felt like we were the overlooked unit the past five, six years."

Linebacker Derrick Brooks also returned a Gannon interception for a touchdown.

Gannon finished 24-for-44 for 272 yards, with a paltry 48.9 quarterback rating.

Though he would have been one of the last players on either team people would have predicted to be MVP, Jackson said he knew it all along, though he had just four tackles during the playoffs.

"As far as I'm concerned, the whole defense could have gotten [the MVP award]," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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